social media

Internet use and access in North Korea

North Korea has both an intranet network (Kwangmyong) and an active internet connection, the latter is routed through China and Russia. There are a little over a thousand IP  addresses as of 2014. While there are around 28 websites on the North Korean internet, there over 5000 sites on the internet. The country also has their own Linux-based operating system, called Red Star. The interface looks quite similar to earlier versions of macOS.

Of course, to guarantee information control, only a few have access to the internet. The average person is not even aware of the existence of the internet, as can be read in a book written by Suki Kim. In her book, she recounts her experiences with the elite youth.

Interestingly, embassies have access to WiFi, and sometimes their networks don’t have passwords and the signal is strong enough to be picked up by people outside the building as well. Unfortunately, browsing programs are removed from smartphones before they are given to average citizens. The regime has a 3G mobile network (Koyrolink) which foreigners can use through a local SIM card.

Most social media platforms are blocked in the country (such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube). Adult websites are also inaccessible as pornography is illegal in the country. The content on their own websites ranges from North Korean news to their national airline company.

As aforementioned, the North Korean internet is routed through China and Russia. Previously, it was only routed through China, however now 60% is routed through Russia as well. This was first observed a month ago, October 2017. This makes sense given the latest political developments.

This article will provide more details on the latest developments on internet connection in North Korea.

Opinion

Let’s Hypothesize: the internet, memes and ‘new’ words

Not only does the emergence of the internet create new terms, it also redefines existing words. The internet is a new place where people exchange information and engage in social contact. The setting of social media is quite different from the setting real life interactions. For instance, we’re able to edit and correct ourselves before posting something, however, in real life, once the words are out, we can’t take them back. We’re probably also interacting with a larger diversity of people than in real life. With this diversity, it is likely easier to create new creative content.

Memes?
A very interesting part of this new creative content is memes. The term meme was coined long before people had an internet connection at home. Initially, Dawkins used it as a way to describe pieces of cultural information that are passed on between people. Memes according to him, pass on the same way as genes do. Gestures, words or rituals are spread among people and are also subject to mutations. And if we think about memes in the internet sense, the aforementioned definition still holds. Words, pop culture, specific interests, daily life situations are often spread among users of internet communities in the form of imagery or texts.

When does something become a meme?
This is a very difficult question to answer, as internet users can get quite pious in what can be labeled a meme or not. However, I believe the same principles that determine whether something becomes a meme in real life, can also be applied to the internet setting. For instance, the word “gnarly” existed long before surfer culture popularized it in the 70s.
But what exactly makes up these principles is hard to spell out. I think if this was known, businesses would gladly use this to promote their products, to make money off of this process. Sure, there have been companies that successfully, intentionally and unintentionally, used this phenomenon for brand recognition (I have seen people use Snickers’ slogan: “eat a Snickers” in online interactions). But not all companies that invest money in ‘memeing’ will achieve ‘meme status’.
Though, not only companies can earn money through memes. People and animals have become internet sensations and earned money as well (e.g. Antoine Dodson, Grumpy Cat, Ken Bone). But why do some memes catch on, while others don’t? I’m assuming timing plays a large role in this. Some attempted memes achieve virality after a few years. For example, the movie The Room was released in 2003. The first meme-like imagery was spread in 2009, while in 2010 more content was created, which kickstarted the actual meme.

Memes as words and slang
Language-wise, what is interesting, is that new definitions for existing words are created. And that the use of certain words suddenly spikes in online interactions (and gradually make its way into real life interactions as well). I recall a time when the words “I’m bored” were plastered all over my Facebook timeline. The actual meaning behind these words in that setting is fascinating. As it wasn’t just a statement of one’s internal states. With this phrase, people looked for entertainment through social interactions.
Then we had a spike in “That awkward moment…“. The internet provided the opportunity for people to open up about embarrassment they go through in daily life. Things people might not discuss in everyday face-to-face conversations, because, well, they’re embarrassing. But being able to read that you are actually quite similar to your peers takes away some of that embarrassment. Besides, a quick Google search can easily lead you to stories of people who are going through similar situations, which probably makes people less alone and ‘weird’.
Now the word “relatable” seems to be a much-used form of expression to indicate you experience similar emotions or events in your life. What is important to mention with this word is that figurative speech is imperative online. For instance, people might find a picture of a dead fish lying on the shore to be ‘relatable’. Thus, images are used to figuratively or comically express feelings.
Other, more recent slang terms are “extra“, “lit“, “dead“, and “bruh“. Much of the credit of the emergence of these new words can be given to an important online community referred to as Black Twitter. This community not only sheds light on relevant (racial) issues, such as police brutality, members of the community are also responsible for a large part of the new creative content that can be identified as memes (and slang).

Memes do not only create new ways to express emotions and create bonds between individuals, it also influences the current zeitgeist and creates discussion among groups of people (e.g. Kony 2012, #icantbreathe).

social media

Social Media: fear of missing out


With the emergence of social media, new problems have surfaced. However, the question is whether these problems are substantial enough to consider. For instance, internet addiction can be considered a new issue, but addiction existed in other forms before the internet came to be. And since addiction has been tied to biological processes, these underlying mechanisms could make individuals more susceptible to (internet) addiction (Vink et al. 2015; Kühn and Gallinat, 2015; Zhang et al. 2015). But let’s focus on the social spaces in this virtual world, which created a new fear: the fear of missing out.

However since the fear of missing (FoMO) out is still a new concept in regards to online communication, I still find it quite broadly defined. It seems to be used mainly in regards to social networking sites, but you can imagine that this could also be used in terms of other online services, such as messaging applications. People share social information on sites such as Facebook and people might feel like missing out on such information when not regularly checking this site. Since all of these different services can be accessed through a smartphone, it has become difficult for people to not regularly check for new notifications. Different people have voiced their criticism on device use and often refer to a time when the internet wasn’t a ‘big thing’. But not having access to the internet is almost unthinkable in many parts of the world today. It is not just used to keep in touch with our family or friends, but government departments, schools, employers, etc. expect us to be able to use the internet. Lacking skills or access could ultimately result in digital exclusion.

Though the fear of missing out is also applicable in the offline world. People not being able to attend a ‘get together’ or not being invited to one could also elicit this fear. Przybylski et al (2013) created a FoMO scale to measure this construct for their study. Items included in the scale were:
“Sometimes, I wonder if I spend too much time keeping up with what is going on”.
“When I go on vacation, I continue to keep tabs on what my friends are doing”.
These same researchers found that especially young males are susceptible to FoMO. Those who score high on this construct are more likely to check their social media when waking up, during eating, and before going to sleep. Students high on FoMO were also more likely to engage in social media use during lectures. And lastly, high scoring FoMO individuals tend to use their smartphone while driving.

Dossey (2014) wrote an interesting article about the practicalities of FoMO. For instance, he discusses a new term coined by South Korean doctors, digital dementia. In this new “dementia” people’s right side of the brain become underdeveloped, while the left side is overdeveloped. Symptoms tied to this phenomenon affect memory and attention span, and impulse control.

Here I want to postulate that there could be underlying biological mechanisms at work in regards to online behaviors. There have been studies in such settings, for instance, Sherman et al. (2016) found increased activity in neural pathways (using fMRI) when adolescents were exposed to pictures with many ‘likes’. This activity is related to reward systems.
The feel-good hormones in those reward systems stimulate us to carry out certain behaviors. If we have been enforced to do something that releases such hormones, we are very likely to keep repeating them. That is why we engage in certain behaviors, such as eating delicious food, having sex, and check our phone. And if seeing a notification pop up on our smartphone screens can elicit such strong feelings, it is only natural for us to feel so attached to our phones.

Dossey, L. (2014). FOMO, Digital Dementia, and Our Dangerous Experiment

Kühn, S., & Gallinat, J. (2015). Brains online: structural and functional correlates of habitual Internet use. Addiction biology, 20(2), 415-422.

Przybylski, A. K., Murayama, K., DeHaan, C. R., & Gladwell, V. (2013). Motivational, emotional, and behavioral correlates of fear of missing out. Computers in Human Behavior, 29(4), 1841-1848.

Sherman, L. E., Payton, A. A., Hernandez, L. M., Greenfield, P. M., & Dapretto, M. (2016). The power of the like in adolescence: Effects of peer influence on neural and behavioral responses to social media. Psychological science, 27(7), 1027-1035.

Vink, J. M., Beijsterveldt, T. C., Huppertz, C., Bartels, M., & Boomsma, D. I. (2015). Heritability of compulsive Internet use in adolescents. Addiction biology.

Zhang, J. T., Yao, Y. W., Li, C. S. R., Zang, Y. F., Shen, Z. J., Liu, L., … & Fang, X. Y. (2015). Altered resting‐state functional connectivity of the insula in young adults with Internet gaming disorder. Addiction biology.

Opinion

Let’s Hypothesize: Critical Thinking and Truth on the internet

In the first part of the ‘Let’s Hypothesize’ series, I discussed the impact of the internet, which can be read here.

I find ‘critical thinking’ a difficult topic to discuss since it seems very vague to me. What is considered to be critical? One idea that I repeatedly hear is that people that attend University are taught to think critically. However, I am not sold on this idea just yet. To me, it seems as if institutions teach you a set of rules to apply to study or understand phenomena and when these rules are actively used it is considered to be critical. And different institutions teach different rules to adhere to when, for example, handing in papers or projects. In my experience, thinking outside the box (rules) barely gets you credit. You might hear words of disapproval such as ‘you clearly didn’t understand the essence of this exercise’ or ‘no, you’re interpreting [insert writer/scientist/painter] wrong!’. I personally felt agitated when literature teachers would look for deeper meanings in famous writers’ texts. I mean, did the writer really intend to ‘add’ a deeper meaning to their texts.

Another anecdotal story is when I visited an art museum. This museum had an entire floor dedicated to medieval art. Those who have been exposed to medieval art might now that the perspective tends to be off and you can run into the occasional fish-human, or goats flying through the sky. So some of these paintings really made me laugh when studying them. However I got very dirty looks from the other museum visitors. And then I wondered, did Jeroen Bosch really want me to take his art that seriously? Or was he genuinely poking fun at the world? Why are we so serious when it comes to art and literature? Or do we have to scrutinize every single aspect of the painting and look for deeper meanings?

 Social media and politics
One of the areas I am most interested in when it comes to the use of scrutiny in regards to analyzing situations or objects, is politics. Right now news outlets spend a lot of time covering today’s happenings in politics. So the public is exposed to this information and there seems to be a demand for it as well. With the existence of spaces on the internet (e.g. social media) where people from most parts of the world can engage in discussion, not only are we exposed to information that is supposed to be factual but also others’ opinions. And this creates new and interesting phenomena when it comes to forming attitudes and critical thinking.

Am I normal?
I feel like on of the important aspects of the internet is that people who felt excluded can look actively look for others just like them. Entire communities erupted that shared the same interest, and sometimes even met up offline through conventions. Nowadays so many different hobbies and interests exist that it seems as if humans are becoming more complex in what they take pleasure in. Individuals who might have initially felt somewhat left out because of their interests can now talk to people online about their favorite topics. I recall a time on Facebook when ‘that awkward moment when…’ was a widespread discussed topic. Same goes for ‘I do this thing where I…’ to express the ‘weird’ things that they do. And what happened? A lot of people pointed out that they felt the same way. And using many online communities online, people could suddenly ask millions of people, anonymously, how to fix all sorts of issues. While before most teen magazines would cover such problems through ‘Ask [insert name]’, now it is much easier and faster to simply browse through questions asked by others.

Polarization
Being exposed to many different opinions people can also become much more polarized in their attitudes. For instance, before people would solely discuss their political beliefs at parties or family events. But now you can look for others alike and talk about your shared beliefs. Though this might become an ‘echo chamber’, where everyone just repeats the same idea over and over. And we have this tendency to start believing things if we hear them enough times. It is also easier to avoid those who have different beliefs, so it is possible to continuously ignore these opinions. So not only will those who hold extreme views start to feel ‘more normal’, they might also become even more extreme.

New online news sites and objectivity
There seems to an increase in new forms of news sites, there are sites that affiliate themselves with extreme political views. The issue with this is that authors might become more biased in order to justify their political views. There are news sites that aren’t necessarily tied to a political ideology, but it seems to be difficult to write a news article without picking a side. The question is, does objectivity really exist? I fear it does not. Whether you want to add a certain meaning to a text, people will interpret it however they want. Though, I do think it is possible to strive for some kind of objectivity. I am aware of the fact that this sounds very vague, but this is an issue of ethics. If you misinform your readers to fit your ‘agenda’ by (creatively) changing statistics, photoshopping images, or deliberately cutting a video to your liking, what are you trying to tell and sell?

Real truth, science, and philosophy
According to several individuals we have entered a time of reflexive modernization (Giddens, Beck, Lash). In this type of society we are constantly evaluating everything around us. This means that before a policy is implemented it will be scrutinized to ensure that it won’t pose any risks to anyone. We constantly want to create buffers before problems can happen. Because if they do, groups of people will be blamed and will be held responsible. An opinion I often hear from parents on scientists is: ‘with my first child I had to make sure that I positioned him like this and that in their crib, but with my second child I had to do the exact opposite! It is like scientists can’t make up their minds!’. Besides, you want to do the best you can and follow orders from your doctor,
but they cannot anticipate everything, unfortunately!
But then we reach this state where truth becomes this philosophical concept. Because when is something really true? Before you come up with a definition, I can write an essay on how our senses are fallible and that we see and hear things that aren’t even present in the ‘real world’. So when do we observe the absolute truth? Because studies have shown us time and time that we see what we want to see or are primed to see. The image above is a representation of this, why do we perceive a triangle in the top image and a sphere in the bottom image? (This is considered to be Gestalt Psychology)

Critical thinking and truth
I am curious to know whether critical thinking has always been a favorable thing, or was it considered defiance in the past? And will we move to a new phase in the cycle where such thinking will again be reprimanded. I often see the word ‘sheeple’ used as an argument when people have a different opinion in a discussion. Through a quick Google search you will find that sheeple are considered to be people who just follow the crowd and are unable to form their own opinions. But still, what is critical thinking really? Is it when you have an opinion that doesn’t match those the majority hold? Google gives me the following definition: the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgement. But what is objectivity if we cannot observe the truth?

‘Let’s Hypothesize’ is part of an article series in which I do not rely on scientific references. Instead I will speculate on topics related to consumer behavior. Plus I will include more historical facts and sociological theories.

social sciences

In Defense of the Internet: Stimulation Hypothesis

Every new technological advancement raises new questions. How will it affect us psychologically? How will it shape society? Will it change the existing relationships between, citizens, corporations, media, and government? Those who have lived through the emergence of electricity, steam trains, landlines (phones), radio, TV, and ultimately the internet, will probably be able to tell you that all these inventions come with concern. Will the existence of the internet eventually lead to the end of all direct human interaction? 

Often I hear parents express worry over the fact that children seem to be spending ‘a lot of time’ on the internet. Shouldn’t they be playing outside, hanging out with their friends? Has the internet made us more individualistic and antisocial? It is regularly suggested that people ‘nowadays’ spent more time on the internet than engaging in contact with their friends and family. This could be defined as the displacement hypothesis (Valkenburg & Peter, 2007). However, a contrasting hypothesis states that people actively use the internet as a means to participate in online communication, this is referred to as the stimulation hypothesis. Valkenburg and Peter found significant results that support their stimulation hypothesis.

The internet has probably enormously increased mobilization and globalization. It has become easier to look for jobs elsewhere and to enjoy pop music created in other countries. And when one of our friends is temporarily studying abroad, we can effortlessly keep in contact through many internet services. Moreover, we can make new friends, and look for relationships using apps and sites. And according to data gathered in the USA, 23% have found their spouse by using these services (Smith & Duggan, 2013).

However, the internet will continue to bring more possibilities to make our lives simpler and often more complex as well. Thus people are persistently going to take a reflexive stance on new inventions regarding services provided using an internet connection. As individuals will continue to refer back to times when such services were not available yet, through the use of the internet. And unfortunately the sole way to find out which services fit our lifestyle and serve the greater good is through a process of trial and error. We cannot anticipate all of the possible consequences.

References

Smith, A. and Duggan, M. (2013) Online dating & relationships. Available at: http://www.pewinternet.org/2013/10/21/online-dating-relationships/ 

Valkenburg, P. M., & Peter, J. (2007). Online communication and adolescent well‐being: Testing the stimulation versus the displacement hypothesis. Journal of Computer‐Mediated Communication, 12(4), 1169-1182.

Opinion

Let’s Hypothesize: Impact of the Internet

We can’t deny the huge impact of the Internet on consumerism, and the other way around. Ever since we went through the industrial revolution, capitalism has been on the rise. And it is apparent that we have entered a consumer society. We seem to be much more preoccupied with buying and owning new products. And because the standards of living have increased, we are able to replace old products much faster than before. Less emphasis seems to be put on repairing broken products, instead we look for new ones.

The amount of Internet users has been rapidly increasing over the last couple of years. Plus, aside from this, Internet usage is also on the rise. We are more and more able to rely on this form of media to get goods and services. I probably don’t have to explain to you that you can buy anything from food to clothes in this virtual space. But it also means that illegal goods are also more available to the general public (think Deep Web).

The number one difference between buying products from the Internet and traditional buying, is the fact that you can just sit at home and shop away. Whereas before the existence of Internet shopping, you actually had to leave your house. In the past, people camped outside of stores to get tickets to see their favorite band. But now everyone just frantically sits behind their computers, refreshing til they ‘get in’. Also, if you have a friend that lives on the other side of the country, you can easily get them a gift with just the click of a mouse.

Apart from actually buying products, we can look up information about a variety of brands and models. Years ago we relied on information from store clerks or magazines, but now we can do our own research as consumers. Though, this overload of information means we have so much more research to conduct. However, a myriad of comparison sites exist that can do this type of work for us. There is a difficult aspect to anything on the Internet. Do companies pay to seem more favorable? For example, an energy company could pay to be listed much higher on a comparison site, while they might not deserve a higher spot on the list. The cognitive load of looking, judging, and weighing information is growing.

And on the other hand, an innumerable amount of review sites have come into existence as well. Plus, many online shopping sites have their own rating system. So not only can we rely on objective information, we can also read other people’s opinions on products and services. Which means that you can look up hotel reviews before actually booking. Though, there is also the problem of whom to trust. A quick look at someone’s profile on a review site can clear up a whole lot. Some people are just more critical than others, so they might be more prone to give out bad reviews.

Sadly, reviewing is linked to more issues. You might have received emails from companies asking you to review a product that you have recently bought.How often and under which circumstances would you go and review the product? Because we could reason that people only review when certain conditions are met. First of all, when we really like or dislike a product we might be more likely to give our opinion. But when we are ‘just’ satisfied, we couldn’t care less about letting others know what we think. Second, some people are just more into reviewing. So whether you actually post your opinion might be related to your personality or values.

Product-wise, it seems as if the amount of brands and products are on the increase. A great deal of brands only exist on the Internet, and do not have physical stores. Apart from this, brands and products can become specialized. For example, it’s easier to find merchandise of bands or TV series that are quite obscure. Additionally, because of the Internet, more subcultures are being brought to life, and as a result of the diversity of lifestyles is expanding. And if we were to look at, for instance, Halloween costumes, the variety and possibilities are endless nowadays. We can be or become anything we want to be.

Not only can we look for information, others (companies) can also look for information related to us. It is known that companies will try to gather information on our Internet behavior. If you do not have anything like AdBlocker installed, you might have been confronted with ads (on social media sites) of products that you were checking out a few hours ago while being on a online shopping site. So while you’re scrolling through your Facebook News Feed, you end up seeing the same sunglasses you were contemplating to buy earlier. This setting makes it easier for ads to become more personalized and accessible. And Facebook can include sponsored content in your News Feed, based on your demographic information and other pages you already liked.

On top of advertising, online shopping sites can alter their websites to make you more likely to continue browsing or buying. This can be achieved through the amount of products shown on a page, or the specific listing of products. More and more sites are starting to use A/B testing. This means that you might be seeing 10 results on a page, while I might be seeing 20 results on my computer screen. Researchers will constantly be checking which alteration will generate more traffic and longer stay on their site.

Furthermore, another impact of the Internet is globalization. The quantity of sites that deliver outside of one particular country is also on the rise. This means that we can buy products that are available outside of the country we reside in. And because the Internet is perpetually creating new cultures and trends, this can influence the types of products that are desirable at any given time. So we can buy candy from Japan, that is not purchasable in our own country. And Beyoncé’s music is spread even faster around the world, which means that it will become more accessible and her fame will expand even further. Thus since a new form of culture has been created, we have a new influence when it comes to learning about and liking products.

We can also sell our own products with much more ease, and we can offer these to a wider audience. But this also means that we ourselves have become merchants. Suddenly we have to adopt selling strategies to get rid of these products. Therefore, unexpectedly, we have to come up with our own ideas and ways on how we can get the highest offers, and to make the most money. We have to become even smarter.

But there are also downsides to the existence to Internet, at least for the creators of content. First of all, it is not to difficult to ‘steal’ and illegally share digital content like music, series, or movies. And second, there is still a big problem with user-generated content, which these users earn money with. Because others can easily share and redistribute this content, and make money off it, without the artist’s consent.

Then there is also the issue with trustworthiness. Which sites can we trust? Will they actually deliver the product? Will they deliver the exact product that was shown on the picture? To solve this problem, some countries have a quality mark, which trustworthy online shopping sites can earn. And on websites were everyone can sell their own products, there is often a reputation system. Using this system we can check if a person has had a good reputation in the past. Furthermore, when buying clothes, we aren’t always sure if they will fit us. Therefore some of these sites will have a return and refund policy.

The only big problem we still have is the delivery. Many delivery companies will have time windows that aren’t very convenient. Though, in some places it’s possible to get your products delivered to a pick up point close to your house. And since most of us probably don’t own a 3D printer, we’re gonna be relying on delivery for a while longer.

Despite the delivery problem, Internet shopping means a bigger diversity in products, more information, new cultures / trends, and new types of advertisement. Therefore our psychological processes might be changing, for example due to the bigger cognitive load, or different information presentation. Which means we will have to start from scratch on consumer behavior when it comes to consumerism and Internet use.

‘Let’s Hypothesize’ is part of an article series in which I do not rely on scientific references. Instead I will speculate on topics related to consumer behavior. Plus I will include more historical facts and sociological theories.

Photo by Robbert Noordzij